News, Trump Administration

U.S. House votes to sanction Turkey, recognize Armenian genocide

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Tuesday passed legislation with broad bipartisan support to impose sanctions against Turkey for its military invasion of northern Syria.

The legislation passed the House by a vote of 403-16. All 13 members of the North Carolina delegation voted “yes.” The measure comes after the chamber voted earlier this month to approve a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

The bill — sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas) — would impose sanctions on specific Turkish officials connected to the invasion. It would also sanction financial institutions that knowingly bankrolled the invasion and it would bar U.S. defense services from being transferred to the Turkish government if they may be used by Turkey for military operations in northern Syria.

Ahead of the vote, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump of unleashing “an escalation of chaos and security in Syria” when he announced plans to pull U.S. troops from the region. She warned that Trump had threatened lives, risked regional security and undermined U.S. “credibility as a trustworthy ally.”

Trump’s critics on both sides of the aisle blame the president for allowing a Turkish incursion into the region that targeted U.S. Kurdish allies. There is also bipartisan legislation in the Senate to impose sanctions on Turkey, but its fate is uncertain.

The House also voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night (405-11) to adopt a resolution that commemorates the “Armenian genocide,” when an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923 in the Ottoman Empire, which is now Turkey. North Carolina Representatives Virginia Foxx and Mark Meadows were among he 11 “noes.”

Engel of the Foreign Relations Committee has said the House wants to send a clear signal with its recent actions regarding Turkey. “I think some of us are a little bit annoyed with Turkey, and we want them to know how much annoyed we are,” he told NPR.

The “genocide” label is highly contentious and previous attempts to pass a similar resolution fell through in recent years, due in part to pushback from Turkey. The Turkish Embassy cautioned this week against any attempt by the House “to pass judgment on the events of 1915,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the States Newsroom Network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

News, Trump Administration

Congress, Butterfield pay tribute to the late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, an influential Democrat in Congress, died last week.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sat next to Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) on the floor of the U.S. House a few weeks ago, when Cummings cast what would be his last vote in Congress.

The Maryland Democrat “didn’t know it was his last [vote], but it was,” Butterfield said. Cummings’ staff helped him get out of his chair. “He looked at me that day and said, ‘I’m so sick. I love you man,” recalled Butterfield, who was among the many lawmakers who paid tribute to Cummings on the House floor on Monday.

“Well I say to you tonight, Congressman Cummings, ‘I love you, we love you, America loves you,’” he said.

Cummings died last week at age 68 after serving in the House for 23 years. He was chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and previously served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“He was a leader who loved this nation and all of its people and fought until his very last breath for those who had been left out and left behind,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Lewis and Cummings used to joke about the fact that people confused them for each other. “It was an honor to know and to love him,” Lewis said. “We have lost a warrior and I don’t think we’ll be so lucky or so blessed to see the likeness of this man again.”

N.C. Rep. G.K. Butterfield

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Majority Whip, spoke of Cummings’ legacy.

“It’s a simple legacy that I would hope all of us will remember,” he said. “It matters not where you come from, what really matters is how far you go.”

Cummings, Clyburn added, “came to this body knowing full well that he was coming into a body where people stood on the shoulders of giants. He didn’t set out to be a giant, but he became one. And we today are much better off because of Elijah Cummings.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that when Cummings spoke, “he spoke with moral authority, frequently reminding us that we are better than that.”

Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., lamented the timing of her former colleague’s death.

“Tragically, we have lost Elijah Cummings when this House perhaps most needed his principled leadership,” said Holmes Norton, who serves on the oversight panel that’s involved in the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

“Elijah Cummings’ legendary even-handedness will be most missed and sought after by all who are looking for a role model and for best practices for the rare impeachment inquiry,” she said.

Cummings’ fellow Maryland lawmakers also mourned their former colleague on Monday.

“Even as he commanded a gavel as chairman, he never stopped fighting for Baltimore and the little guy,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said, “I was thinking today as I drove from Baltimore through West Baltimore, the community he loved, about his fight for the soul of our democracy and I had anxiety. Can we finish that fight without him?

“But it occurred to me that Elijah would not have left us when he did if he didn’t believe that we had it within ourselves to finish that fight.”

Robin Bravender is the D.C. bureau chief for the States Newsroom. 

Education, News, Trump Administration

Elizabeth Warren releases new education plan, includes $450 billion in federal aid

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite for the Democratic nomination for president, is famous for her plans.

Education Week reports Warren has a plan for education now too, and it includes $450 billion in new federal aid for “disadvantaged students.”

The plan is likely to draw a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump’s administration, which has made funding for school choice and privatization programs a priority.

Education is not grabbing the headlines in this election, given the near constant stream of conversation about impeachment, espionage and whistle-blowers. But it should be, given the enormous impact it will have on states.

Here’s a portion of Education Week‘s report on the Warren plan. For the full report, visit Education Week.

Massachusetts senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is proposing a K-12 education plan that includes $450 billion in new federal aid over 10 years to disadvantaged students, changing the way that money is allocated in order to ensure underfunded schools get more, and more than doubling funding in special education grants by increasing aid by $20 billion a year.

In addition, Warren’s plan would direct billions of dollars a year in federal money to promote public school integration, and aims to help 25,000 public schools transition to the community schools model, which provides health and other wraparound services to help students and their communities. She also wants to eliminate “high-stakes testing” and authorize new legal requirement that teachers can organize and collectively bargain in every state.

Her campaign released “A Great Public School Education for Every Student”on Monday. In this plan, Warren also reiterated her previous pledge to appoint a person with public school teaching experience to be education secretary. She also wants to end federal funding for charter school expansion, and to allow only local school districts to authorize charter schools.

On the technology side, she wants to revamp federal law to “ban the sharing, storing, and sale of student data that includes names or other information that can identify individual students.” She also takes a shot at tech giants like Facebook and Google by saying she’ll “crack down” on data mining practices that take place in schools.

Warren’s plan would require huge changes in how the U.S. Department of Education does business, and Congress would have to sign off on key elements. Politically speaking, it’s hard to see how much of want she wants gets over the finish line; lawmakers would have to agree to revise several key elements of the Every Student Succeeds Act, for example. But it sends a clear signal to Democratic voters and key power players in the party, especially the teachers’ unions, about her intentions and how much she would depart not just from the Trump administration, but from the Obama administration as well.

“As public school teachers across the country know, our schools do not have the financial resources they need to deliver a quality public education for every child. That’s why my plan invests hundreds of billions of dollars in our public schools—paid for by a two-cent wealth tax on fortunes above $50 million,” Warren said in a statement accompanying the plan.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Doctors locate Lindsey Graham’s backbone

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham reports he’s feeling “fit as a fiddle” after spine surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina last week.

“See, I’d misplaced the ol’ backbone,” Graham told reporters while being wheeled from the O.R. into the recovery room.

Shortly after, he would be taken to a private room where he would be greeted with Hallmark TV and a post-op diet very much like his regular diet of soft, white, flavorless food which the Senator likes to call “patriot fuel.”

The surgical team joined by true conservatives who care about (1) the future of the Republican party and (2) the Constitution rejoiced at the reinstatement of Graham’s spine, which had been noticeably—and awkwardly—missing since Trump’s election.

“He has had a harrowing bout of sycophantitis but he’s recovering nicely,” said an operating room nurse on condition of anonymity and free cable for a year.

Having once described Donald Trump as “a kook unfit for office,” Graham had recently changed course to flatter Trump. Months later, he found he was unable to walk without crumpling to the ground.

“It’s my damn spine,” he said, using uncharacteristically colorful language. “You think you can just lose it and go on but honestly you can’t. Look at Sean Spicer. He got his back and went on “Dancing With the Stars!”

When asked if he’d like to compete in the reality dance show someday, Senator Graham blushed and said dancing and card playing was “better left to Democrats and other heathens.”

At the hospital press conference, doctors praised Graham’s willingness to put himself through what will surely be a very difficult few months.

“Saying out loud the president is shortsighted and irresponsible to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria signaled the good Senator’s desire to stand upright once again,” said a surgeon. “But he will have to withstand a torrent of hateful tweets from the president perhaps the rest of his life. We can install the spine, but we can’t tell you how long it will last under that sort of attack.”

“We’re hoping Mitch McConnell will seek similar surgery, but it is probably too late,” said another unnamed source who was paid with a lifetime supply of Cool Ranch Doritos. “Also, where’s my free cable?”

Immediately upon hearing of Senator Graham’s dramatic spine replacement surgery, Utah Senator Mitt (“Mitt”) Romney sent a large bouquet of his friend’s favorite flowers, bachelor’s buttons, accompanied by a glittery ribbon reading: “Atta Boy!”

“It’s a little colloquial but, shucks, we’re all adults here,” said Romney, blushing.

Meanwhile, Palmetto State darling, Nikki Haley, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, also criticized her former boss’s decision to withdraw troops.

“We must always have the backs of our allies…leaving them to die is a big mistake,” Haley really said. Such a rebuke from an attractive woman with a big ol’ brain may have truly wounded the president.

Declaring his “great and unmatched wisdom,” Trump immediately demoted Haley from “a smokin’ eight to more of a low three.”

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times-bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

Commentary, Trump Administration

As Trump sinks, GOP scrambles to do as much damage as possible in time left

There’s a palpable and growing sense in the nation that the end is in sight for the wretched presidency of Donald Trump. The combination of Trump’s shocking dishonesty and dishonorable foreign policy is even starting to become too much for many Republicans, who have begun to abandon him growing numbers.

And whether the end comes a year from now in an election loss or sooner via the impeachment process, all a caring and thinking person can say is “thank God that the nation is finally waking up!”

Unfortunately, this hopeful news is having an important negative impact in the short term: it’s driving Republicans in Washington to get as much done in the limited time they have left to impact federal policy, even if it means working hand-in-glove with the Prevaricator-in-Chief himself.

For a classic example, consider the nomination of the vile Steven Menashi to serve a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Menashi has a dreadful record that the good folks at People for the American Way recently described this way:

Menashi’s abhorrent record of opposing and undermining equity for communities that have been marginalized is one that any ultraconservative Trump Republican would applaud. He has expressed blatant hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community, women, lower-income families, Muslims, and immigrants expressed in countless writings from the 1990s and 2000s. Menashi has also worked alongside White House aide Stephen Miller to advance xenophobic and racist immigration policies of the Trump administration and he has enabled Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s controversial and harmful agenda.

A detailed report from the Alliance for Justice includes this summary:

Steven Menashi has clearly spent his legal career advocating for policies reflecting the racist, sexist, homophobic rhetoric of his past writings. As Betsy Devos’s right-hand man at the Department of Education, he has worked to strip away critical rights and legal protections for women, sexual assault survivors, LGBTQ people, students, and people of color. Demonstrating how far outside even the conservative mainstream he is, in case after case, his views and policies have been repudiated by federal judges. Menashi’s writings and record are completely disqualifying for anyone seeking a lifetime seat on the federal bench. Every senator who votes to confirm Menashi will own the vile positions he has put on paper, as well as the harm he will cause the people of the Second Circuit.

To make matters worse, Senate leader Mitch McConnell appears to be doing his utmost to rush Menashi’s nomination through, just as he has with so many other right-wing judicial nominations. Trump only submitted Menashi’s name in August and it looks as if the Senate could move the nomination very shortly — much quicker than usual.

The bottom line: Those who care about the future of our nation would do well to pay close attention to the metastasizing scandals around Trump, but they should also speak out against the treacherous actions Trump and his lackeys will be taking in the limited time they have left in power.